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Bill Limiting NSA Surveillance Practices Fails In Senate

The USA Freedom Act had the support of not only the White House and Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy but also that of Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, but the bid to reform the NSA failed late Tuesday after it didn't receive enough votes to cut off debate.

After a 58-42 vote, the measure had the support of the majority – but it didn't get the 60 votes necessary to break a Republican filibuster. It was something of an odd end for a bill that had been approved by the Republican-controlled House back in May.

The USA Freedom Act sought to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, to "rein in the dragnet collection of data by the National Security Agency (NSA) and other government agencies, increase transparency of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court," as its chief House sponsor, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., says in a summary on his website.

The Hill reports:

"The defeat of the legislation to stop the government's bulk data collection program will put off legislation responding to Edward Snowden's leaks about the controversial programs until next year."

Leahy, the Judiciary Committee chairman, said that in blocking the bill he had sponsored, his Republican colleagues "failed to answer the call of the American people who elected them, and all of us, to stand up and to work across the aisle. Once again, they reverted to scare tactics rather than to working productively to protect Americans' basic privacy rights and our national security."

Earlier Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., took a stand against the bill. Citing the U.S. fight against extremist terrorist group ISIS, he said, "At a minimum, we shouldn't be doing anything to make the situation worse. Yet, that's just what this bill would do."

Another "No" vote came from Sen. Rand Paul, who said that he voted against the bill because "it currently extends key provisions of the Patriot Act until 2017."

Digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation said of the measure's failure, "We are disappointed that the Senate has failed to advance the USA Freedom Act, a good start for bipartisan surveillance reform that should have passed the Senate."

Leahy vowed to keep working to pass the bill, which sprang out of what the Two-Way called "an unusual alliance involving a prominent House Republican and a veteran Senate Democrat" when it was first introduced in October of 2013.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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